The Story of Dust - Part 3: Marky Ramone

Jeb Wright

Circa 1980, I was hanging out with my buddy Chris Birch at his house in Topeka, Kansas.  His older brother had a large record collection.  I was into searching the past for great music that time forgot, so I would go through his records, discovering vinyl grooves that I had never heard before. 

One day, while perusing his discs I found an album with three Vikings on the cover called Hard Attack by the band Dust.  Intrigued, I borrowed the record, took it home and taped it. 

The first song “Pull Away/So Many Times” was an acoustic to electric rocker with crazy lyrics and a bass line that blew my mind.  I went on to check out “Learning to Die” and “Suicide.” 

I was blown away.  I took the record back to my friend’s brother and he showed me another Dust album, this one with three skeletons on it.  This one had a wild song titled
”From a Dry Camel” that blew me away.  I was a Dust fan for life. 

Fast forward to 2013 and I get an email from Chip Ruggieri, owner of Chipster Entertainment telling me that Legacy Recordings is re-releasing the two Dust albums in one new package, remastered.  I got as excited as if he had asked me to interview Eric Clapton.  I ended up interviewing all three musicians in the band and their lyricist. 

What makes Dust interesting is twofold.  A.  They were a proto-type American Metal band consisting of young men playing balls to the wall loud rock and roll.  B.  They were what I refer to as a pre-supergroup.  All four members of Dust went on to have amazing careers in rock and roll.  Richie Wise and Kenny Kerner became famous producers.  They helped launch the careers of rock icons Kiss as they produced their first two albums.  Kenny Aaronson went on to play bass guitar with Stories, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Foghat, Bob Dylan, Rick Derringer, Leslie West, Hall & Oates and many others.  Marc Bell changed his name to Marky Ramone when he joined The Ramones and is now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

Way back when, in the late 1960’s, when they were in high school, and later in the early ‘70’s when they recorded their two albums, fame still awaited them.

Back then they were a band too loud to play in the local clubs.  

This is Dust and this is their story. 

Jeb: Dust is back.

Marky:  The remastering is unbelievable.  It sounds heavier to me.  I say to myself, “How much heavier can this stuff get?”  When I heard it I couldn’t believe it. 

Jeb: This band didn’t sound like everybody else.

Marky: There were not any bands like Dust in America at all. When you think of Heavy Metal you think of bands from England.  Dust was together in 1969-1970, before the first Black Sabbath album came to America.  Our songs were already written.  The album was released in 1971, but we had the songs done a year and a half before that.  We were very young at the time. 

In America, at that time, can you count on your fingers who was playing music like that?  Iron Butterfly was more psychedelic.  There was Mountain and Grand Funk, but they were not Metal.  Blue Cheer was out with “Summertime Blues” which to me was a Metal song.  Then there was Dust.

Jeb:  At the time did you realize Dust was groundbreaking?

Marky: We had no idea, but we loved our influences and we just added them to our foundation.  We were 18, or 19, years old.  I was still in high school when I did the first Dust album.  I came out of high school and we did the second Dust album. 

It was just what we were into.  We loved Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Jethro Tull, but we wanted to be more bombastic and crazy.  We wanted to be faster and louder and we felt we achieved that.  In America producers didn’t know how to produce Heavy Metal and a lot of mangers were a little reluctant.  

We did the first two albums and I felt that we were not on the right record label.  If we had been on Atlantic, or Warner Brothers, and we did a third album, with Richie and Kenny producing, then I think that would have put us over the top.

Jeb: Why didn’t you do that?

Marky: We fizzled out.  We were still young and our manager wasn’t the greatest.  When you’re that age you just go on to other things.  We didn’t think, “Let’s do a third album and see what happens.” We would have had to make a demo and shop it around, get a new manager—we were not that experienced. 

We were never even inside a studio.  On the first album we used other people’s equipment.  We used a ramshackle drum set.  I walked in there and it was the studio’s drum set and it had tape on the heads and stuff.  They managed to get some really great guitar and bass sounds out of the amps that were there, but not on the drums. 

On the second album, I had my new set of Ludwigs and Richie had his huge Marshall stacks and Kenny and Richie were starting to produce really well.  If we had done a third album for Atlantic I think that would have gotten us over the hump.  I look back and I’m grateful that we were able to do those first two albums.  We were one of the first American Metal bands and that says it all.

Jeb:  You’re drumming on these albums is crazy.  “Pull Away/So Many Times” has a great drum part.  It is simple genius. 

Marky: Well thank you.  I am a simple genius guy [laughter].  On Hard Attack the drums were way more up front.  They knew how to produce, plus the drums were new and I tuned them properly and they were huge. 

I used a 28-inch bass drum and I used two 20-inch floor tom-toms.  I used 15x12 tom-toms.  These were huge drums.  For hi-hats I used two crash cymbals.  They were 16 inches.  It made it all a little different than the first album.  The remaster shows it.  There is more depth in the bass drum and the bass guitar.  It sounds more modernized, but in a good way. Nothing has been taken away from it.

Jeb: You are in the Hall of Fame and the Ramones are legendary but here we are talking about Dust.  Is that weird?

Marky: What’s funny is that every time I would tour—I would tour the world and go all over—and kids would come up to me with Dust albums to sign.  I would ask them where they got them and they would tell me they got them from their big brother or they saw them in the used bins in the used record store. 

To be honest with you, I was a Metal drummer first and then I got into the Punk scene, which was very easy to play.  After playing with Dust it was a lot easier as Richard Hell and the Ramones were basically all in 2/4 or 4/4. 

Jeb: How did you form the band?

Marky: Kenny and I went to junior high school and high school together.  We played in some bands and we were just playing the hits of the day.  When we got serious then we started hanging around Parkside Avenue, where all of these musicians hung out in Brooklyn. 

Richie had already formed Dust and he asked me to play in the group and he had to fire the drummer he had before me.  He wasn’t really developing as quickly as he wanted him too.  I saw Richie play with Dust before I joined.  Kenny joined after me and then everything gelled and we started working on the original stuff that was on the first album. 

Jeb: Do you have a favorite?

Marky:  “Camel” is outrageous.  That was in the Top 10 Heavy Metal almanac when it came out.  That song is nine minutes long and there are a lot of starts and stops and tempo changes; I can’t believe I was doing that at the time. 

I think I was going on 18 years old when I was doing that.  When we did it live it really stretched out.  The instrumental “Loose Goose” was another fun song.  You have to realize that we got together, did the two albums and then broke up just two years later.  Kenny and Richie went on to produce Kiss. 

Jeb: You had a reputation of being one of the loudest bands around.

Marky:  Yep, for sure in Brooklyn and probably in all of New York.  We had three acoustic bass amps going at once.  We had two or three Marshall stacks.  No one was really playing with that kind of amplification back in 1970 or 1971. 

Jeb: How often did Dust play live?

Marky: We played a few shows.  We mainly stuck to our guns and played in Brooklyn and New York. We played some shows with Alice Cooper and Wishbone Ash.  We played a show with John Mayall.  They were not really the right bands for us to play with.  There really wasn’t a place for American Metal to play.  There were English bands that would come over and do very well because they had already made a splash but they didn’t know anything about us. 

Jeb:  You went from Heavy Metal to Punk and at the time they were enemies.

Marky: In 1976, Metal heads hated Punk because no one was playing good lead guitar and nobody was doing any ten minute drum solos.  Punks had short songs like the Ramones.  The Ramones played with Black Sabbath once.  They were completely booed off the stage.  It took time for people to catch up to the Ramones. 

Jeb: Both styles of music have a ton of attitude and that is why I liked both.

Marky: Of course, the virtuoso player is much better in Heavy Metal, but can they do what the Ramones did, and play an hour and twenty minutes straight?  That is a whole another thing.  It is all 8th notes and down strokes and it all goes fast.  I didn’t even have time to drink water on stage.  I couldn’t even wipe my hands off because of the counts that Dee Dee would count. 

Jeb: If Ramones fans listen to Dust then your drumming would blow them away.

Marky: They would say, “I didn’t know he could do that.”  I was doing things when I was 17 or 18 that drummers are doing now in Metal.  If a lot of kids discover Dust, then they will see that I can do more than just play in 4/4 and 2/4. 

Jeb:  Two drummers Dust made me think of were Keith Moon and some Carmine Apiece.

Markey: More Bonham and Mitch Mitchell.  I liked Carmine on “You Keep Me Hanging’ On.”  That is a heavy soul rendition of that Motown song. Carmine helped kick off that heavy drum sound.  I imitated Bonham’s foot work.  Carmine was playing two foot drums.  I had to be able to play a single drum set because I studied what Bonham was doing and I added to it for what I did in Dust.  He was a major player in my life. So was Mitch Mitchell in Jimi Hendrix.  He was a jazz drummer.  Ginger Baker was really outrageous as well.

Jeb:  Dust is like a pre-Super Group.  You all ended up famous. 

Marky: We never knew where we were going.  We were happy and grateful to be doing what we were doing. 

Jeb: Did you stay in touch?

Marky: After we broke up everyone moved away.  Kenny and Richie moved to California and Kenny Aaronson played with a bunch of different bands and I ended up hanging out at CBGB’s in the Punk scene. 

Jeb:  Are you proud of Dust?

Marky:  Oh yeah, over the years I would listen to the Dust albums.  We were just kids from Brooklyn who, instead of fighting and joining gangs, were playing instruments.  I was a horrible student in school because the drums came first.  We all ended up in the music business.  I am doing more today than when I was in the Ramones.   

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